The HSP World Podcast Ep. 25: How Do I Find and Hire Highly Sensitives

This podcast is brought to you by the HSP World Mastery Program dedicated to inspiring and empowering HSPs. 

Thomas: Hi and welcome to The HSP World podcast. With each episode we invite a guest with the HSP Trait to have a conversation about a burning HSP-related question they have. We’re not coaches or therapists. We’re HSPs holding space with you. I’m one of your hosts, Thomas and your other hosts are;

Robyn: Robyn,

Rayne: and Rayne.

Robyn: Welcome back everybody to another episode of The HSP World podcast. And special announcement, it is our one-year anniversary. Woo!

Thomas:  Y1ay!

Rayne: Yay!

Robyn: We have officially been recording for a full year now.

Rayne: Awesome. It doesn’t seem like that long.

Thomas: That’s amazing. 

Robyn: Yeah. One of the benefits of quarantine times is that we’ve been able to move forward on this project. So thanks to everybody who’s made it possible, Rayne and Thomas, all our guests who’ve appeared on the show, um, Shannon, who does our social media and of course all our listeners. Happy birthday to us.

Eleena: I’m sure your listeners are very grateful, me among them, for having you all for this year.

Robyn: Well, thank you very much. Allow me to introduce Eleena who is with us for our  anniversary episode. Thank you for joining us today Eleena and happy to hear that you’ve been enjoying the podcast.

Eleena: Well, thank you for having me. Yes. It’s been a great source of comfort and information.

Robyn: That’s great. Could you tell us a little bit about  your background as an HSP? How did you find out about the Trait?

Eleena: Absolutely. So a few years back my mother had reached out and said, Hey, I saw this documentary on Amazon and it really made me think of you and I think you should watch it. And it was Sensitive: The Untold Story. I was already an Alanis Morrisette fan, so that was a quick, very easy sell for me.

And when I watched it I really I identify with a lot of what they were talking about. And it started to give me language to sort of describe what was happening with me, and a way to ask for my needs. And then I, I enjoy podcasts, so I went to look for podcasts about HSPs and I found this one.

And through listening to the first few episodes, I heard about Elaine Aron and looked up her questionnaires that tell you sort of to what level you’re an HSP. And, she also has one for High Sensation Seeking. And I scored very highly on both and have since been really interested in learning as much as I can about, so apparently as an HSP and high HSS, there’s a narrow margin within which I am neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed.

So I’ve been learning how to kind of exist within that margin. So I actually also really appreciated that episode where you were talking about like when to share or how to share about your Trait.

Because as soon as I, you know, figured it out, I had someone at work praising me and complimenting me for qualities and traits I am pretty sure I attribute to my HSP Trait. And so I thought this is the perfect opportunity to tell someone about it.

And I think I just had didn’t have enough of the correct, or like, I didn’t really know how to talk about it then, because her reaction was apologetic and it sort of seemed like she thought I was telling her I get my feelings hurt easily, which is not so much.

But, I, anyways, I digress. That is sort of my story and why I’m really interested in looking at the HSP lens through a professional, employee development setting.

Robyn: So interesting.

Rayne: And you found out from your mom? Yay, mom, hey Eleena?

Eleena: And what’s funny is she’s also an HSP and I’m the one teaching her about it now. She started the documentary and was like, this is my daughter.

Robyn: And now you’re taking it to your professional life.

Eleena: Absolutely. In one of Elaine Aron’s books, the one I’m reading is The Highly Sensitive Person in Love. She talks about how having the Trait can sort of be a superpower, but if you’re not nurturing it or respecting, you know, your needs and boundaries, you could become a very dismal partner.

And I feel like that can also translate to other areas in life, especially in work, you know?

Robyn: Hundred percent. Very, very well said.

Eleena: Yeah, yeah. Before I knew about it, I was, I struggled at work before I knew how to manage it.

Robyn: So, actually I think your, your question today is about the workplace right? Sensitives in the workplace.

Eleena: Absolutely, absolutely. So my question is, as it pertains to managers or hiring managers looking for a candidate. Now I would love to discuss, I can talk for days with you, with you three about the need for managers to understand, recognize, someone with an HSP Trait and sort of what they can do, how to nurture that.

But in this, what I would really like to get your thoughts on is in the interview process.

Like I believe the position that I am interviewing candidates for would benefit greatly if they had the HSP Trait, however, they would have to be in control, well not in control, but they would sort of have to know, you know, their limits and have some sort of mastery over their HSP super powers.

And so to what extent can we glean that or sort of ask about that during the interview and to an extent, is it fair to take that into consideration when evaluating them against other candidates?

Rayne: So, this is because you are hiring your replacement to go on to do some further studying, correct Eleena?

Eleena: Correct. My, so I’m hiring a replacement in the position I’m leaving for when I go start studying. And I know that my HSP qualities have really, really helped in this position. And I’ve been getting feedback that what I bring to the table has been what’s missing from the team.

And I truly attribute that to having figured out my HSP super powers and how to harness them.

So I feel like it’s important that if I, that I would love to hire an HSP into the role, but I need to know that the HSP isn’t going to be like I was four years ago, you know, before I knew how to manage my, my, my, I like to call them super powers.

Robyn: Ah, this is so good. Thank you so much for this question. I was really looking forward to having this discussion with you Eleena because  it’s not what we’re used to hearing. Right? We’re used to hearing, how do I like convince my boss that it’s okay that I’m sensitive or I’m sensitive how do I fit in at work?

And here’s someone in the position to hire an employee saying, I want a Highly Sensitive person here because I see how they would be right for the role. And I want to nurture that and embrace that, you know? So…

Rayne: And in a leadership position.

Robyn: Yes, yes. And, and you have the success story of having seen or been appreciated for those aspects of your character.

So it’s really nice to have a positive story like that, so I’m really happy to get into it.

Um, it’s also, I think, I think what we’ll probably end up touching a bit on how, more generally, you know, how do you talk about people who are sensitive or how do you look, seek out people who are sensitive in your life without necessarily going into this spiel about the, the questionnaire and Elaine Aron.

I mean, you can use the word sensitive. I have seen the word sensitive on job descriptions, not often, but I think I have, I think I have maybe at least culturally sensitive, I’ve seen that. So there’s a kind of sensitivity that could be appreciated, but, um, yeah. So what do we think?

Rayne: Well, okay. So, okay. One thing I can share, that, I mean, as for the questions you’d want to ask and cause you were saying it, would it be morally, you know, correct to be seeking them out. And I really think that’s up to the individual person and the culture of the company, you know, that type of thing.

But I was reading a study, well, geez, a couple of years ago, and it was saying how sensitive leaders,  there was going to be more and more demand for them in the future. Because of the unique skill set they have. So I think this is just, you know, it’s, it’s basically coming true, you know, is, is what’s happening.

But I know in past jobs I’ve had, I remember the one job I had where I felt really supported by my, uh, he was the CFO. And, basically, he was really good at giving me direction, but then also saying, okay, you go ahead and run with it, because some Highly Sensitives, they, you know, they’re very, they, they work very well on their own, and sometimes they prefer to some of the time.

So he was really, he recognized that in me, but he also, um, was really good at encouraging me to bring other people in, right? So that was great because that, and he did it, you know, in a, just a very, you know, informal way, which was wonderful.

And, I would have to say, he gave, he let me, he gave me space to do what I needed to do you know? So it was a sort of a hands-off type of thing, but also very open door, you know?

Eleena: Yeah, that makes me think of the place I worked previously. The culture there was not at all conducive to a Highly Sensitive person, which makes me feel very grateful for the company I’m with now, where I do have a boss that allows me the room to, you know, figure out how I can bring my best qualities forward. So it’s interesting.

Robyn: Yeah. So, yeah, I would agree with Rayne that, you know, ultimately, whether or not it’s fair to look for someone who’s Highly Sensitive, it really just boils down to what, what is the mandate, what are you required to look for? Do you have the authority within your position to look for whatever you think is right for the job?

Or are there specific set of criteria that the company is looking for. Probably some mix of both. Right? Probably, um, they have particular criteria in mind, but you know, it sounds like if you’re, if your boss, is looking to you to make this decision and is appreciative of what you’ve contributed to the role, then you might have a certain amount of freedom to choose someone that you think is suited based on the criteria that you’re looking for as well.

Something I would probably… I probably would not give someone the questionnaire because here’s something to keep in mind. Right? Ah… High Sensitivity… it’s… High Sensitivity has multiple facets to it. Right? So Elaine Aron, as you would have seen in that documentary, she talks about the D.O.E.S. model, right?

D.O.E.S. or doze and, D for depth of processing. O, for overwhelm E for emotions and empathy, S for noticing subtleties. So these four characteristics have to be present for someone to be considered Highly Sensitive. Right? And really the core characteristic is the depth of processing and picking up on things. Right?

So, I think, you know, and this is just, uh, an important practical concern as well. I think honing in on what is important within those traits, what is it exactly that was needed, or that’s appreciated? What, what sub traits are the most important?

So, is it attention to detail? Is it conscientiousness? Is it creativity? Is it, you know, sensitivity in communication, is it diplomacy or active listening? Is it, um…

Eleena: How about all of those?

Robyn: Yeah, well, Okay. I mean, any, any, I mean, any of those could of course be needed. Right? And any of these can be assets in work the workplace. So.

But I can see how some might be prized more than others or some can really be the, the core criteria. I know, for example, I mean, I think I have been hired a couple of times by people who were looking for something that would fall within the trait of sensitivity, but it was a little bit, it was still specific. Right?

So I, for example, there was a school where I think I was hired because you needed to be very, you needed to be very attentive to the needs of, it was, it was basically like a lot of one-on-one classes. So you needed to be very attentive to the needs of the person in front of you and very adaptive,  beyond any set curriculum.

So you had to be really someone who can empathize and listen, you know, and follow the person in front of you. So that kind of emotional sensitivity and empathy was very important. Right? And another job the boss kind of looked at me one day and she said, you know, the person who does this job needs to really be able to think things through.

I was like, Oh, okay. And I think she, I think she was telling me that I was doing it, but she just kind of, I think she was just kind of describing what was involved in the job. And she said, you know, it really is important that whoever is here, really thinks deeply about things. I thought that was kind of cool.

You don’t hear people saying that a lot. Right? Um, so, but again, I thought that was really a nice precise description of one of the traits of sensitivity. So I think, and this would be a way that, you know, you don’t have to have any awkward conversations about what is an HSP, but you probably would end up with an HSP if you favour these traits. Right?

So I think it would be good to, I mean, you could have this discussion with your boss too and say, you know? Okay, I know this, these kinds of things figure within my profile and you can name some of the things from the Highly Sensitive model.

And then you could say, you know what, you know, I’m looking for my replacement, what of all these traits, if I had to list like maybe the top three, what do you think are the most important that, you know, or maybe you’ve already had this conversation. Right?

But what, what do you think are the most important? And then you would want to look for that as well. And I mean, you can also build it into the interview. There are certain you can, you can check by the way the person answers and, um, the kinds of answers that they give. Or if there are any tasks involved in the, in the interview process.

There’s one other thing I’m thinking of here and, you know, Eleena, you were mentioning about how all I would want to be, that I wouldn’t want someone to come in here and be the kind of HSP I was four years ago. And, I’m wondering if you’re talking about like some of the struggles we might have in the workplace. And I think it would be good to think you know, just because someone is sensitive doesn’t mean that they’re managing it well, doesn’t mean that they’ve accepted it, doesn’t mean that they are drawing on it successfully.

So, you might also want to think what level of development do you want that person to have, right? So maybe, maybe they’re sensitive to criticism, but they know how to have a conversation about feedback that works for them.

Maybe they’re sensitive to conflict, but they’ve developed the skills, they’ve done the work to, to learn how do I successfully manage conflict? Even if it’s not something that I like. Right? So one of the dangers of just saying, I want an HSP, you might overlook, okay, well, what, what do I concretely need them to be able to do? 

And that’s where a certain level of development and a certain level of work will have had to be done for the, for an HSP to be comfortable really in any workplace. Right? Because if you can’t deal with conflict, if you can’t set boundaries, if you can’t deal with feedback and criticism, it doesn’t matter what job it is. You’re, you’re not, you’re not going to be okay. Right?

So that, that would be another thing. I think you could, you could script that into your interview questions. Right? Tell me about a time that you’ve dealt with conflict or what kind of feedback do you like to get? And you’ll see someone who has like really thoughtful answers or can give you lots of examples.

That’s the kind of HSP that, I mean, you can tailor it to the role, you know what may be a bigger or lesser pitfall in that role?

Rayne: What, what do you think, Tom? What do you think Thomas?

Thomas: Well, basically setting up scenarios where you say, you know, here’s the, here’s a hypothetical situation involving these tasks or these people or whatever. How would you, how would you deal with it? How would you handle it? How would you guide the process? Things like that. 

Eleena, when, when you first mentioned the question, you know, one of the things that crossed my mind is that there are certain restrictions on what the things you can ask during an interview.  

You can’t ask certain questions because they might be seen as discriminatory. And so, you know, the HSP Trait has sort of a, uh, sort of ambiguous when it comes to that. But there are things like you can’t ask, you know, about disabilities. You can’t ask about genetic information. And, so that’s sort of where my mind went first.

It’s like, Ooh, wow. Now I haven’t been in an, in an interview process for a quite a while. I’ve been sort of like asked to participate in interviews just to, to vet certain people that my clients were hiring. But, where I would go definitely would be just to set up some scenarios so that it’s very focused on the work and very focused on trying to flesh out, okay, this is how this person approaches these certain situations.

Eleena: Gotcha. Yeah, that’s really helpful.

Rayne: There’s also some, some things that HSPs tend to, from, from what I’ve observed, they tend to share is creative hobbies. So that might be kind of a nice ice breaker, you know, is to ask them if they have any hobbies and, they paint or, like Thomas does automata? Thomas, I always say that wrong…

Thomas: Automata or kinetic, kinetic sculpture is another way to put it. 

Rayne: Yeah. So just to see, you know, with what their different interests are that could probably give you an idea if they have the Trait that’s kind of a nice, easy way to kind of go. You know, you can start an interview as opposed to these heavy-duty questions coming, shooting at you right away. Right?

Eleena: Right. Yeah. I work for, the Humane Society of the United States. So I like to start off with, if you could choose which animal you wanted to be, what would that be? I feel like that could be a little telling as well based on their reasoning.

Rayne: Excellent.

Eleena: If they actually provide any reasoning or not. You know what I mean?

Thomas: Eleena, have you done a lot of interviews?

Eleena: I wouldn’t say a lot. I’ve done a fair amount. I am still what I would refer to as a junior. Well, actually I’m senior manager is my title, but I’ve only directly been managing reports for about three or four years, still honing my craft and I have had to hire about four people. Yeah. And interviewed and you know, for that. Yeah. 

Robyn: Do you feel that, sorry, I was just wondering, do you feel that in the interview process that you already did, are there elements that could be adapted to finding an HSP.

Eleena: Yes, absolutely. I have had a few hires that I wish I dug a little deeper, to, you know, to, to, to gauge the, the, in certain situations, the depth of processing and emotional, like emotional intelligence, picking up on subtleties. Those were important to the role and at the time, I didn’t necessarily, you know, look for them or ask those questions or even evaluate that in my assessment of the candidates.

So I definitely would do a few things differently or I’m going to do a few things differently. Moving forward.

Thomas: Yeah, you could probably develop a question like, you know, sort of a certain scenario happens. So how long do you think you’re going to think about it afterwards?

Eleena: Ooh, that’s a good one. Oh, that’s a really good one. How long do you think, do you think you’ll think about it.

Thomas: It, it, it might, from the point of view of the interviewee, it might seem like an odd question.

Eleena: Unless they’re an HSP.

Thomas: Unless they’re an HSP. You’re right.

Robyn: And some of the traditional questions that ask about values and priorities. Right?

Like what what’s important to you? If you were, if you were to come work here, what would be important to you in the role? You know, why do you think you’re the right candidate for this? Which always seems like a bit of a difficult question, but you know, at the end of the day, you’re looking for a fit, right?

So it, it is, it is a fair one and someone who’s attentive to what’s going on in the, that that will let you assess as well. Like, is this person good at, assessing fit. Right? Are they good at seeing what’s needed and, and expressing that then after, you know, you’d have to find, I think, other questions to find out, to go beyond just what they say.

Thomas: Coming up, Rayne poses an interview question that is HSP-related, but has a non-obvious answer to it. We’ll be right back after this. 

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Rayne:  I think a telling one would be asking them if they were open to working over time  anytime asked, because an HSP that has firm boundaries in place will tell you no.

Eleena: Oh, my God. That’s genius. I had to learn that, I did. And I think that’s the only reason I’m able to give as much as I am is because, I have set those firm boundaries. That’s a really good point.

Rayne: Hmm. Which is so funny. Cause it’s the opposite of what people think they’re, you know, it’s the opposite of what people think would be the right answer.

Eleena: Is there a way to sort of let them know that it’s like, let your guard down and don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Like establish that psychological safety for an HSP to sort of reveal these things.

Rayne: Well, I like, like I said, for me, I would start off with just some getting-to-know-you things, you know, like, do, do you have any hobbies? That type of thing. And just as a human to another human, you know, getting to know them. And then,  you know, as Thomas was saying ask some of the different scenario type questions, like, Oh, well, you know, how would, how would you handle this?

Or would you,you know, how long would you think about this? And, you know, in some of the things Robyn was saying, and then, you know, like, Oh, okay, well we have 20 minutes to do this and that’s it. You know what I mean? I would, I would be very relaxed about it, that it takes however long it takes and that’s it kind of thing. And, so that they feel comfortable.

Robyn: Yeah, I’m thinking about something as well. A tip that I, a colleague used to give me for working with students who wants to please the teacher and be, you know, very people pleasing. And you may sometimes see this behavior in HSPs as well, is to, to remind them to attend to themselves.

So, you know, asking them like, well, what do you want to do next? Like in a classroom context. So in an interview context, I’m thinking like reminding them that they’re interviewing you too. Reminding them.

So, you know, what is important to you here? What part are you at in your career? What, what would make you happy here? What would make you unhappy here?  Tell me about some of your past successes. Tell me about things that you’ve learned, even if it’s the hard way. Right?

So like just emphasizing that there is room for them to explain who they are and, and to have them ask you questions. You know, and, and to really emphasize at the end of the day, what’s important is fit.

Eleena: Right.

Robyn: That, that everyone is happy on both sides and that it’s a match that makes sense.

Eleena: Absolutely. Absolutely. I wonder if there’s, so you know how you were saying some HSPs,  they’re still getting the hang of it. Is there a way to sort of gauge someone’s willingness to work on it if they’re not there yet, like let’s say I see that they’re sensitive. And I guess I would probably come up with a scenario about coachability in that case, how coachable they’d be.

Rayne: Yeah, that’s a tough one because sometimes, you know, sometimes a person’s not ready.  They’re not ready to hear that, or they’re not ready to work on it or, you know, whatever it may be. So that’s um, what do you, how do you feel about that one Thomas?

Thomas: Something like describe, describe a recent success. But I’m, I’m, I’m drawing a blank now in terms of what, what I would want to describe as a success.

Eleena: How would you feel about like, if I were… describe a recent failure and what you learned from it or how you, you know, blank, something like is sort of instructive?

Robyn: Well, that would be, I mean, I think there are ways to ask that question and I think that would be revealing in terms of, you know, where they’re at and how do they, how do they describe or, or relate, more difficult moments in their own development. 

I think another thing too, to be clear on again, is before you go into the interview is thinking like, okay, what are my non-negotiables?

What are, what are the, the, the things that this person really needs to be able to do already? Like if boundaries around, I don’t know, overtime or other things like that are this person really needs to know right away. You know, then, then, you know, you test that one. And if, if you’re not sure, if you have a bit of a doubt about their ability to meet that standard, then okay. No, we’re not taking this person. And then you can have.

You know what they call asset criteria or things where there’s a little bit of room, you know, if, if I felt that they could develop this, you know, with six months of coaching on the job, you know that we have a little bit more give on these elements, but I think making, making a distinction there.

Eleena: Yeah, that’s really important.

Robyn: There’s some things that I don’t know if you can, can you teach someone  to think more deeply about things or to attend more to things. I mean…

Eleena: That’s a great question.

Robyn: I don’t know. I don’t know. I, I’m not sure that it is something that,

Thomas: How often do you introspect?

Robyn: Yeah,

Thomas: It’s a weird question.

Rayne: Reflect.

Robyn: Not, not to say, not to suggest that this is fixed, but you know, it might be more  circumstances that would push someone to do that more or less than, than their baseline, rather than coaching. I dunno.

Rayne: I would think something around, um, team building. And being aware of the, I don’t know, to, to me it’s really important that the person is trying to understand and work within the context of the people they’re working with, whether they’re called the boss or not right?

Eleena: Right.

Rayne: You know that, that essentially, you know, everybody gets it, that it’s the team, the team that wins here, you know?

Eleena: Yeah, I think you really honed in on what I’m trying to find is the willingness in, in what the quality that I think is going to make my replacement successful is being able to understand, adapt to the people they have to deal with and read the, you know, the subtleties, the nuances, micro expressions, like, okay, this person says that they’re okay with this, but, they’re hesitant or I feel like I need to comfort them about something or to kind of preempt potential issues. 

Rayne: Yeah. I like, I noticed when we were having the five of us, that we were meeting that the one person that could tell they had a lot on their mind and they had a lot to say, but they didn’t feel comfortable saying it. So mental note to myself after this meeting, I’m going to go sit with them and find out what was on their mind.

You know, they didn’t feel comfortable sharing it with the group, but what they have, what they think and what they feel is important. So. Okay.

Robyn: Yeah, but that that’s like, it sounds like you’re talking about emotional detection and empathy, and I think this might fall within the purview of emotional intelligence. So maybe looking up that a little bit as well. I’m sure I know there has been a lot written about emotional intelligence and certainly in the workplace as well.

And there are questions that you can ask to screen for that, because that is a very particular subset that you’re looking for emotional detection, empathy, attentiveness to nonverbal cues, um, and again, being, being careful to, not to assume that just because someone is Highly Sensitive, that they will have developed that.

I mean, yes, we do tend to be more naturally attentive, but we also tend to be overwhelmed. And when someone is overwhelmed, they’re not going to be attentive. So you’d want them, you want that to be developed enough, but then you also want, um, the management of stress level to be developed as well, so that they’re able to put things in context and, and keep that ability alive.

Eleena: Yeah. That’s really helpful. I’m taking copious notes.

Robyn: Sounds like it. How sensitive of you.

Rayne: It’s okay, well, we’ll, we’ll be publishing it Eleena.

Eleena: Oh yeah. Okay. That’s right.

Robyn: You can go back and listen.

Thomas: Well, Eleena, I want to thank you so much for today’s conversation and I’m curious to know how you feel about it.

Eleena: I feel very grateful. This is something I’ve been mulling over for awhile, and I’m really appreciative for the space that you all hold for us to kind of talk to other HSPs and, and cause, you know, as an HSP, we’re running through all of our thoughts going, is this reasonable? Is this unreasonable? You know, am I going off to much in one direction?

So it helps to speak with folks who are using the same vernacular, it kind of get it and can confirm or deny, you know, what is or isn’t appropriate or is or isn’t me overthinking?

Rayne: We all help each other. That’s for sure.

Thomas: Yeah. Well, thank you for joining us today.

Eleena: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Rayne: Thank you Eleena and, and hey, good luck with your with your new hire and, and congratulations and good luck on your new area of studies. I think it’s fantastic. Good for you.

Eleena: Thank you. I hope to be infusing more employee development tools for managers to harness HSPs, hopefully.

Rayne: Awesome.

Robyn: So cool. Well, thank you, Eleena, and thank you to our listeners. So please join us for our next episode where we’ll be having another interesting HSP conversation and to any Highly SensitiveS out there who have a burning HSP-related question, whether it’s a big one or a small one, we invite you to ask it on the HSP World podcast.

Just email

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